The AgencySpy comment section is going legit. Earlier this week, the best place in the industry to air grievances without fear of retribution or accountability announced it was switching comment platforms, from the anonymous Disqus to the very personalized world of Facebook.
The move marked the end of an era for the agency community, which seemed to loathe the often nasty, salacious comments with as much intensity as as it consumed them. As recently as last week, Kat Gordon, founder of the 3% Conference, called AgencySpy comments a "cesspool of misogyny," and even suggested some women executives feared being promoted for fear of the blog's more vicious participants.
Still, the shift occurred with little fanfare, delivered in a short post on the 10-year-old site. "Why will we be using Facebook for comments? Simplicity of use, reduction of spam and easier sharing," wrote Patrick Coffee, Adweek senior editor and AgencySpy editor. (Coffee referred a request for comment to Adweek editor in chief James Cooper, who did not immediately reply.)
The move is part of a streamlining of properties at Adweek following the outlet’s acquisition by Canadian private equity firm Beringer Capital last summer. "This is also part of the evolution of the Adweek Blog Network as we align ourselves more closely with the main property," Coffee wrote. "You may have noticed our Fishbowl and Social Pro Daily sites have migrated to the main site, and the ultimate plan is for the remaining three blogs (which include TVNewser and TVSpy) to make that move as well."
For fans of uncorroborated industry gossip, the sun is setting on a favorite playground—albeit one with tetanus on the swings and toxoplasmosis in the sandbox.
"I'll never go there again. I wouldn't even read the story, I'd just read the comments. It was ugly, but it was their reason for being. I don't see the need to go there anymore. In my opinion, they just killed the brand." – An agency marketing and communications executive
Even people who hated the site found it hard to look away.
"I actually do my best not to read it. Admittedly, I get sucked into it, but it usually reinforces why I shouldn't read it. It's so bitter and angry, and often uninformed. So I find myself upset after I read it. So for me, I think it's a good thing it's going because it doesn't help our industry." – A senior creative at a global agency
The reaction from some agency folk was ambivalent.
"I believe it serves a purpose, as the internet can be the great equalizer and even legalizer, but it was tough to decipher what was fact and what was fiction. I know people that hated when they were attacked and others that loved any and all attention." – A senior executive at a global agency
Yes, the comments were juicy, and occasionally slanderous. But they still have their defenders. "I see the reasons why AgencySpy made this change," said Chapin Clark, EVP, managing director, copywriting at R/GA and manager of the agency’s Twitter account. "It makes all the sense in the world. Still, I think it’s kind of a shame."
"To me, the AgencySpy comments were theater, not real discourse," he continued. "They were a kind of performance art. I never took them literally, or seriously. It was people venting, working out their issues, on a public stage–pettily, in cowardly fashion, but often entertainingly.
"Personally, I considered it a badge of honor the few times people insulted me in the comments," Clark said. "It meant they cared enough to hate me. Or enough to pretend to hate me."
But not everyone was a fan of the type of theater AgencySpy enabled. "I think anonymous comments in general are bad for the psyche of the culture," said Greg Hahn, chief creative officer at BBDO New York. "They often just spiral into hate as performance art. I think the damage they do to those being commented about is far greater than the good it does for the commenters."
Indeed, the vast majority of people willing to speak to Campaign US about the new comment policy expressed relief. "How can anything that fuels negativity be positive for anyone or any industry?" said David Angelo, founder and chairman of David & Goliath. "Giving disgruntled people and bullies a platform to spew loathing comments while staying anonymous isn’t beneficial to anyone. And the fact that they remain anonymous shows their true colors."
"If you have something to say, be brave and put your name to it," he added. "More than ever, we need to encourage positivity, and removing the comments is a big step toward that."
"Not sad!" – A senior creative at a global agency
Cindy Gallop, former BBH chair and vocal industry critic, characterized the negative comments on AgencySpy as "the manifestation and projection of deep frustration and unhappiness about our industry."
"I think it will be good to have commenters identify themselves on Facebook to get to more understanding of the day-to-day experiences and issues of everyone in advertising, so that we can collectively address them to make this a better industry to work in," she said.
"I think it's great for the industry," Ian Schafer, founder and chairman of Deep Focus, said of the shift away from anonymity. "Many of the writers for AgencySpy have actually been super talented. But the comments section, often filled with schadenfreude, was not constructive. The ad industry needs the best people to rebuild it—not take it down."
Certainly, agency public relations personnel are breathing easier. "I applaud it," said Brandon Cooke, global chief communications officer at FCB. "In an era that’s focused on transparency, it’s a great time to do it."
"It’s about time. Score one for the humanity in all of us, and one against the trolls. There’s no value in malicious, non-constructive, anonymous criticism for criticism’s sake. It would be great if all that ‘energy’ and time could be harnessed into creating positive change somewhere. Really, life’s too short. Onward." – A senior agency comms manager
"I, for one, won’t be sorry to see the end of such vitriol. Was never good for the industry." – A PR executive at a global agency
Others people are skeptical much will change at all.
"The ability to anonymously comment turns relatively good people into total assholes, if just for the moment that they are commenting. It's too seductive to a frustrated (most likely male) creative who's stuck in a bad job or career not to be an anonymous bitch. Anonymous comments are the product of despair designed to create more despair in others. It's a despair-filled meth pipe. Just watch, anonymity isn't going anywhere. It'll find a way." – A senior creative at an independent agency
Sure enough, within hours of the AgencySpy announcement, commenters had created fake Facebook accounts to continue the haranguing.
While senior executives are, for the most part, happy to see the forum fade away, some acknowledge that it did provide a place for junior agency employees to vent their frustrations with management in a way that wouldn’t endanger their jobs.
There is no other outlet. Do junior copywriter teams ever connect with their chief creatives? Probably not. Do they really know all their copywriters? They 100 percent don’t. You’re not going to get ‘Gary Vaynerchuk is a fucking hack’ and all that stuff anymore. I don’t think people are going to want to make those comments, because that’s career suicide. You openly trashing this on your Facebook account, which can now also be searched through Google because it’s on AgencySpy…they’re going to find your shit. I would do that if I was a recruiter. – A mid-level agency copywriter who is not a recruiter
There are, however, true fans—AgencySpy connoisseurs—who will miss the heyday of the site. "Obviously it’s a sad day for anonymous haters. But let’s not forget the trolls—this will hit them the hardest," said Ross Wolinsky, a senior writer at 72andSunny and one of the creators of the short-lived CommentSpy, a "news" website that reported on AgencySpy comments. "But honestly, it does feel like a bit of a loss. For as horrible and mean-spirited as it was, the comments section of AgencySpy could be occasionally illuminating."
Wolinsky’s fellow CommentSpy creator, Nick Marchese, a freelance senior copywriter at Y&R, thinks industry discourse might actually suffer sans AgencySpy comments.
"With anonymous commenting gone, I'm guessing they'll get fewer interesting tips, which means we'll get fewer interesting stories, which means no one will really care at all," he said. "And it comes at a time when it seems like a lot of people in the industry are just generally apathetic about work. Obviously, the comments could get nasty and personal, but it was pretty easy to weed out what was worth listening to and what wasn't. I guess what I'm saying is, it's better for the industry when people care about the work and what's going on, even if that includes saying mean shit about it all."
As for the vast repository of previous comments, witty repartee and misanthropic catharsis, they no longer appear on AgencySpy stories, current or otherwise. But the Disqus archives remain, just a Google search away. And for future commentary, r/advertising is this way.
"It’s over? Rats. I was hoping to be the first Cannes Grand Prix winner to comment on AgencySpy." – A Cannes Grand Prix winner